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daily mail


by Michael Coveney, Daily Mail
Venue: The Venue, Leicester Square

Taboo or not to boo, that is the inevitable question. And the right answer is: Well, it could have been a whole lot worse. Boy George, using his own rise and fall as a pop icon of the Eighties, has written an enjoyable new musical - with This Life writer Mark Davies - that is also surprisingly conventional.
At first, Soho as a carnival clubland for transvestite pimps and made-up floozies of all sexes is exactly like those old Joan Littlewood musicals written by Lionel Bart. This is the lure for Billy from Bromley, engagingly played by Luke Evans, who wants to be a flashy photographer and escape from grey suburbia.

His mother (bustling Gemma Craven) joins in, while Dad (Mark White) makes an unpleasant fool of himself.
Billy engages in an on-off romance with a clubbing girl, falls under the dangerous spell of the selfconscious 'art work' Leigh Bowery, and betrays his new friends by talking to the newspapers. The irony of that lies in the show's endless reminders that George and his painted pals measured their fame and success only in terms of column inches and tabloid notoriety.
The New Romantics, as the era of Culture Club and Spandau Ballet came to be known, were a post punk pop and club movement, all about crossing the tracks and creating your own glamour, just as Noel Coward and, more recently, David Bowie as the rock pin-up Ziggy Stardust, had done. George, impersonated with uncanny accuracy by Euan Morton, is one of the exotic club crowd including Philip Sallon (Paul Baker), the floppy-haired Marilyn (Mark McGee) and Steve Strange (Drew Jaymson). All these performances are excellent, though all are eclipsed by Matt Lucas as the group's focal hero, Leigh Bowery, the performance artist as a made-up, hilarious alternative to those grey-suited exhibitionists, Gilbert and George.
Among the show's prime pleasures are the costumes by Mike Nicholls, especially those for Lucas's Bowery, got up like a bald, green ostrich, disporting himself in an art gallery window.
The second act, moving from the Blitz club to the darker Taboo, sees George crashing out on drugs, Bowery dying of Aids and young Billy knifed in a street fight.
You could argue that the soft option of his survival is symptomatic of the show's gutless narcissism. Matters are indeed feebly resolved when the scene suddenly shifts to Bangladore, in India, where George is decorated with Hare Krishna flowers - a Judy Garland from a Shirley Temple, he says. The company sing the obvious hit finale, Karma Chameleon.
The small band are superb, with accent on bass and acoustic guitars. One song, Out Of Fashion, is a real winner of shifting harmonics and good lyrics (the antidote to Suede's She's In Fashion), the rest pleasant, rhythmic pop.
The new Venue is a hot basement seating 300. It's agony, but the show is worth a little suffering. Christopher Renshaw's production - his last musical was The King And I; this one's more like The Queens And Us - is colourful and well-organised.
George obviously has a new sort of theatrical future if he wants it enough and is prepared to work just that little bit harder. But does he have another story to tell, I wonder?      
©2002 Associated New Media Limited

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